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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Good news for home buyers! Seattle Voted #2 BEST City

10 best cities for the next decade
Though slowed by the recession, these US cities have flourished by fostering innovations that put Americans to work and keep the nation ahead of the competition.

"New ideas generate new businesses," explains Kevin Stolarick, the research director at Martin Prosperity Institute and our numbers guru, who evaluated U.S. cities for growth and growth potential. "In the places where innovation works, it really works," he says.

In researching our 2010 Best Cities, it became clear that there are three elements to the innovation factor. Mark Emmert, president of the University of Washington, put his finger on two of them: Smart people and great ideas. But we'd argue that it's the third element -- collaboration -- that really supercharges a city's economic engine.

When governments, universities and business communities work together, the economic vitality is impressive.

And it's no coincidence that economic vitality and livability go hand in hand. Creativity in music, arts and culture -- plus neighborhoods and recreational facilities that rank high for "coolness" -- attract like-minded professionals who go on to cultivate a region's business scene.

The 10 cities on our 2010 Best Cities are not just great places to live, they're also great places to start a business or find a job.

Here's a closer look at the cities:

1. Austin, Texas

Austin is arguably the country's best crucible for small business. The city offers a dozen community programs to help entrepreneurs. Overlay that network with a dozen venture capital funds, about 20 business associations, incubators, educational opportunities and networking events. Mix these elements in what many call a classless society -- where hippie communalism coexists with no-nonsense capitalism --and you've got a breeding ground for start-ups.

Don't discount the fun factor: In the self-proclaimed live-music capital of the world, music and business creativity riff off of one another. The city's famous South by Southwest festival, where concerts, independent film screenings and emerging technology overlap, is a prime example.

2. Seattle

Rain City? We say Brain City. It's home to a well-educated work force, a world-class research university and such ├╝ber-innovators as Microsoft (MSFT, news, msgs), (AMZN, news, msgs) and Boeing's (BA, news, msgs) main aircraft production facility. (Microsoft owns MSN Money.)

Seattle boasts a host of risk-taking, garage-tinkering entrepreneurs, and the city crackles with creative energy. "We only have two products here: smart people and great ideas," says Emmert.

3. Washington, D.C.

Every tourist knows postcard D.C., home to the White House, the U.S. Capitol and all those free Smithsonian museums. But those who live in D.C. know better.

The region is chock full of job prospects, entertainment venues and great neighborhoods, and it is booming. Eleven of the 25 richest counties in the U.S. are located in the region, which also boasts a low unemployment rate.

4. Boulder, Colo.

Boulder is a wealthy, intellectual hot spot where environmental and scientific ideas blossom into businesses.

Three economic drivers power Boulder: the University of Colorado, federal research laboratories and more than 6,600 small businesses and corporations. The city is also a mecca for those seeking healthy, active lifestyles.

5. Salt Lake City

You can't beat the cost of living and doing business in Salt Lake City. Utah has relatively low wages, taxes and operating costs. Plus, it doesn't hurt that, in the words of one local employer, "our offices are 15 minutes away from four ski resorts."

6. Rochester, Minn.

Rochester is built on the rock-solid foundation of the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. The community plays host to 2.7 million visitors each year (many of them Mayo patients). Synergy among the city's resources has been well-cultivated and is paying dividends.

The Minnesota BioBusiness Center opened in Rochester in 2009, providing high-tech start-ups with room to grow. The center, located a block from both the Mayo Clinic and the Rochester branch of the University of Minnesota, represents the city's aspiration to build an even stronger bioscience and medical-research community.

7. Des Moines, Iowa

There's more to Des Moines than agricultural jobs. A pending worker shortage sparked by retiring baby boomers has lit a fire under Des Moines' civic leaders. The city is working to lure back young Iowans and attract global talent by developing its downtown and promoting the jobs already available in the many industries that flourish there.

8. Burlington, Vt.

Burlington's local-food movement perhaps best tells the story of how environmentalism drives much of the city's economic growth.

Many shops and restaurants along Burlington's Church Street Marketplace, the famous pedestrian mall, serve up local goodies. A couple blocks over, the City Market/Onion River Co-Op, a community-owned grocery store, offers more than 1,000 Vermont products. (And atop the supermarket, generating 3% of the co-op's energy needs -- enough electricity to power six Burlington homes -- are 136 solar panels from groSolar, a Vermont company.)

Top cities for new grads
And the crown jewel for locavores: the Intervale Center, a nonprofit organization that has managed 350 acres of family-owned farmland in Burlington since 1988 and provides 10% of the town's food.

9. West Hartford, Conn.

Community is key in West Hartford, a place where you actually know your neighbors. But this once-sleepy suburb of Connecticut's capital city is not content to be merely an idyllic place to live and raise a family. West Hartford made our list because it is transforming itself from a suburb into a destination -- in this case, a regional destination for shopping and dining.

Small business is the new game in town, and everyone is playing.

10. Topeka, Kan.

In its reserved, Midwestern way, Topeka has engineered a prosperity that most cities of similar size would envy.

As the capital city of Kansas, Topeka enjoys a stable job market, with nearly 25% of the city’s work force is employed by the government. The city boasts quality schools, friendly people, good hospitals, a university and -- one of its biggest selling points -- low housing costs.

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